This spot of land nestled behind a small grove of trees in the center of Allen’s Meadow may look rag-tag and abandoned now, but in another few weeks it will be humming with activity as gardeners return to prepare their plots for spring planting. Since 1975–almost 40 years–this acre-and-a-half of land has been the site of the Wilton Community Garden. Its existence has been a generally well-kept secret, except among those lucky enough to rent a plot here, among walkers or runners who come upon it during their work-outs, or among kids who stumble upon it while retrieving an errant ball from one of the adjacent soccer fields.
Pat Sidas has been renting a plot for more than 25 years and recalls that in the early days, gardeners had to bring in their own water, put up their own fencing, and remove it in the fall so the field could be tilled before the next growing season. John Gregory, owner of Gregory’s Sawmill, would bring over his draft horses to plow each spring. At some point, the gardeners contributed funds to pay for a point well so that they would no longer have to lug jugs of water from home, and the town took over the annual job of tilling. Today, while gardeners still have to erect their own fences, they now do their own tilling, which enables them to leave their fences up. The town recently put in a second hand pump and several additional spigots, making it much easier for everyone to connect their hoses, regardless of their plot location.
Wilton Parks and Recreation administers the garden, and rents single plots, 20 feet by 25 feet, for $40 and double plots for $50. According to Parks & Rec director Steve Pierce, there are approximately 50 plots and 30 gardeners each year; the total number fluctuates depending on how many people rent double or single plots. Rentals are offered on a first-come, first-serve basis, with priority given to those returning from the prior year.
Perhaps due to the growing interest in locally grown food, plot rental applications have spiked. Pierce says he now has a waiting list of 25-30 people for the 2014 season. Unfortunately, despite the demand for plots, the town is unable to expand the Community Garden footprint. “Based on a 1990’s study done for the Allen’s Meadow Committee, a decision was made to limit any further development in this area to promote natural meadow vegetation and wildlife,” says Pierce.
True to its name, the Community Garden is a community, albeit a diverse one. It includes young parents, empty-nesters, husbands and wives, best friends, first-time gardeners and master gardeners like Sidas and Karl Westerland, who are always happy to share their gardening expertise with others. Despite their varied backgrounds, the gardeners all admit to loving the chance to get their hands dirty, grow things and lose themselves for a few hours in their plots.
For Beth Culnane, and her garden partner Kathy Hartigan, this summer will be their fourth one at the Community Garden. “In the spring, we decide together what we will plant; in the fall, we review what worked and what didn’t. We split everything, including the watering and any costs, fifty-fifty. For Mother’s Day one year, even both our husbands jumped in to help out. Their gift to us was to put in the fencing,” Culnane said. “If I’m having a bad day, I’ll meet Kathy at the garden, we’ll weed, and I’ll feel better; it’s therapy. Plus I don’t even go to the produce section of the grocery store in the summer.”
For Anne and Chris McCann, renting a plot at the Community Garden was a way to get their children involved in gardening at a young age. “Actually, our kids were required to help out,” laughs Anne, who’s renting her plot again for the fifth year. “My daughter Emily, now 13, loves to plant, and my 9-year old son, Christopher, loves to pick. They definitely like and eat more vegetables since we started our garden; in fact, they’ll even eat salad made with lettuce we grow.”
Many of the gardeners harvest more than they or their families can consume, so some, like the McCanns, have started canning their produce. Others take their excess veggies to the Wilton Food Pantry, donate them to other organizations like Community Plates, or give them away to appreciative friends.
When working in their gardens, they are happy to chat with fellow gardeners, or talk to visitors who wander by. However, several point out that in the past few summers, vandalism and theft have become more of a problem; some are considering putting locks on their garden gates to keep out intruders. Many share the sentiment that it’s hard enough to deal with the uninvited animals, insects and weather issues that can wreck havoc on their plants, without having to worry about whether someone will take all their zucchini in the middle of the night.
To learn more about renting a Community Garden plot, call Steve Pierce at Wilton Parks and Recreation, 203.834.6234, to join the waiting list.